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Photo: The Artist

Food & Drink

7 great restaurants in Bucharest

A spoonful of creativity, a dollop of traditions. Bucharest is your next gastro-destination.

It used to be called “Little Paris,” so you would expect Bucharest to enjoy a rich restaurant scene. Like its namesake to the west, the capital city’s streets are lined with bistros and cafés, outdoor dining is de rigueur and local wines are attracting international attention.

The culinary arts are thriving, elevated to next-level creativity by young chefs who are refining traditional recipes while experimenting with both newfangled and ancient techniques – molecular shenanigans meet wood-fired charm. Heirloom vegetables are being brought back by a new generation of farmers preaching sustainability and more conscious consumption and there’s a keen interest in quality products – high-tech espresso bars dabble with single-origin beans and encourage veritable coffee-snobbism, while pastry shops offer outrageously colorful, inventive baked goods. Giving food anthropologists something to stab their forks at, the country’s gastronomy is a mosaic of vaguely familiar flavors, influenced by Eastern Europe, Austria, Hungary, Greece, Russia and other neighboring lands, yet it’s spiced with its own very pronounced personality.  

We all know gastronomy is a huge tourist pull, it’s high time to explore Romania and its multi-facetted cuisine. 

Photo: Voilà Bistrot

Artful food and drink in a quirky atmosphere

Voilà Bistro is a coquette – she doesn’t even try to look demure, she’s a certified tease and one of Bucharest’s worst kept secrets. Hiding in plain sight, she lures you in and doesn’t let go. And why would you want to go? Voilà’s enchanted garden is dotted with candles and eye candy, so of course this is where you should sit. Unless you move indoors, where the mismatched charm is further pronounced and where the spirit of the building’s former party-boy tenant still reigns. Here, Chef Radu Dumitrescu will regal you with his generous yet elegant, seasonal cooking and his astute wine choices.

Voilà Bistrot

Strada Gral Constantin Budisteanu 18, Bucharest

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Photo: Maize

Where wild meets vogue

Urban-sleek and countryside-chic, Maize is as hipster-New York-ish as it’s farm to fork-rustic. Having worked his way through the prestigious kitchens of Noma, Central, Quintonil and Geranium, chef Alex Petricean combines his passion for locally sourced produce with an experimental streak, reinventing traditional Romanian recipes for sophisticated palates. Tucked away on the third floor of a modern building in the Dorobanti neighborhood, Maize’s open kitchen boasts a giant wood-fired oven, right across from the chef’s table, where you should order the innovative tasting menu. Think fire-roasted, semi-dehydrated beets with shaved horseradish, local burrata, Danubian smoked carp and Lovage oil.

Maize

Labyrinthe Paris, Strada Paris 61A, Bucharest

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Photo: Mahala

Eclectic charms and bombastic views

The magic that surrounds Mahala is manifold, starting with its rather incongruous location, next to the ornate Bragadiru Palace, within view of Ceausescu’s House of the People, wedged between the dynamic city center and downtrodden, residential Rahova where Chef Sorin Petru Cucu’s gastronomic dreams were born. His menu blends the classic with the progressive – hearty ciorba soup with tripe, and delicate turbot with black truffles, homey quail- and olive dumplings and dainty sea bass tartar. Even the décor balances on the edge of traditional and contemporary, with naïve wall paintings evoking both old folklore and modernist Brancusi masterpieces.

Mahala

Calea Rahovei 147–153, Bucharest

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Photo: Le Bistrot Français

Time warp with a touch of here and now

Grandma would like it here, it’s the sort of place you visit when the occasion calls for a special bottle of wine and froufrou flourishes. There’s a grand piano and lots of gilding, and nostalgic whiffs of the golden era, when Bucharest was “Little Paris.” Set in the former home of French architect Albert Galleron, 19th century designer of the splendid Atheneum, Le Bistrot Français is cozy, with a noble air. The food here is delicate and modern while the wine cellar boasts several prestigious labels, so treat grandma to a glass or three of Pauillac.

Le Bistrot Français

Strada Nicolae Golescu 18, Bucharest

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Photo: Zexe Zahana

Close to the butcher’s heart

It doesn’t get more genuine than this. The chintzy Zexe Zahana is a temple to sturdy, Romanian cuisine, a house of goodness offering gut-busting fare for fans of offal, sausage and rare off cuts. The word “zahana” refers to a public eatery, located near a slaughterhouse. This type of restaurant is a rarity these days as slaughterhouses have been pushed out of the city center. Start off with a glass of pălincă, the local fruit-based firewater that will awaken your appetite. Don’t miss the national dish of sarmale, spiced, minced wild boar stuffed in fermented cabbage leaves.

Zexe Zahana

Strada Icoanei 80, Bucharest

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Photo: The Artist

Romanian cuisine, as seen through a foreigner’s eyes

The Artist, housed in a handsome old villa, is just that – artistic, creative and utterly well- suited for a peaceful lunch in the verdant garden. Dutch Chef Paul Oppenkamp had not anticipated staying in Romania, but after numerous visits he finally settled in Bucharest seven years ago. His colorful, technique-driven cuisine incorporates local flavors and textures, resulting in surprisingly forward-thinking dishes, and his menu reflects a certain molecular bent. Look out for smoke and other tricks, as well as playful, contemporary takes on traditional favorites.

The Artist

Calea Victorei 147, Bucharest

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Photo: Bistro Ateneu

Gourmet eatery, made for a pre- or post-concert hall visit

Splendidly located in a quaint, historic neighborhood, the 25-seat Bistro Ateneu sits right across from Bucharest’s pride, the ornate musical palace, Atheneum. It’s a sleek, snug space, with kindly staff who encourage you to sip local wines and share the menu’s small plates – perhaps the house-smoked Doftana River trout, served with kohlrabi, potatoes and dill, paired with a cool glass of Monogram, made with the aromatic and complex feteasca alba grape? Or maybe the juicy Mangaliţa pork belly with polenta and Transylvanian truffles, matched with a muscular Purpura Valahica, Davino, 2008. Whatever you chose, don’t miss the pumpkin and sea buckthorn dessert.

Bistro Ateneu

Strada Episcopiei 3, Bucharest

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Last edited: March 7, 2019

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